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The UN's 'studio without transmitter.' (United Nations Information Products Division)

The UN's |Studio Without Transmitter'

Like so much else at the United Nations, its Information Products division, which functions within the Department of Public Information, falls far short of its potential, due to budgetary restraints.

It's not that it doesn't perform a substantial and valuable radio and television service, heard and seen by millions abroad and in the United States.

What stands out are the things the UN does not do with both the information, the international expertise and the enormous human and electronic tools, theoretically at its disposal.

The broadcast department, headed by Georges Leclere, an energetic, 46-year-old Frenchman who administers the small $14 million budget, divides into radio, television, video, film, publications and press releases. Leclere has been the chief of the division since 1986, during which time costs have of course soared, but the UN has failed quite miserably to keep in step and significantly expand its broadcast services.

In fact, despite its image problems, it seems to have determinedly moved in the opposite direction.

The situation is frustrating for the UN media staff - 176 men and women from 60 different nationalities - who follow the basic "mandate" of the UN's radio and broadcast division, but who are sharply aware of how much positive work could be accomplished if the necessary funds were made available.

As is, the Information Products division runs on a shoestring. It can see its potential for the dissemination of news and information not only to developing but also to industrialized countries. However, the budgets are not being allocated the budgets to put new projects into work. The division is expected to generate additional income through coproductions, the sale of its library footage, fees and other services.

"We aren't allowed to accept corporate funding from the outside," explains Leclere. "We can create some UN television material which local shows can use, and that same material can then be cycled to other stations around the world. There are lots of events we'd like to shoot, lots of ideas we'd like to carry out, but we just don't have the funds."

Sylvester Rowe, the division's deputy director, says more generous budgets could create additional video shows aimed at targeted audiences on a regional basis, and would also make possible a greater flow of information to the developed nations.

As is, UN television no longer has its own transmitters. It used to be carried by the Voice of America, but when the Voice raised its rates, the UN felt it couldn't afford them and cancelled the arrangement.

So now, as S. Martin Bunnel, executive producer of Information Products division, puts it: "We have eight studio cameras. We have all the technical equipment. We are a medium-to-large TV studio without a transmitter."

Basically, the division's mandate is to communicate the UN and its activities to the world. When that idea was conceived, TV didn't really figure in the budget picture, and it never caught up.

In fact, the TV studio today occupies the two-story space that was once meant as a hangar for the Secretary General's helicopter.

Leclere's division, which employs 40 unionized engineers and runs one television and quite a few radio studios, control and editing rooms, tape libraries, etc., provides pool coverage of the Security Council and other UN sessions. Also it carries addresses by the Secretary General, who has his own set in a corner of the studio (representing his office on the 38th floor), and it produces the weekly World Chronicle discussion show, which uses UN correspondents.

Leclere's department also facilitates UN headquarter locations for US and overseas correspondents and for programs that want to use the UN as a colorful background.

Both Leclere and Rowe are painfully aware that much more could be done, and the image of the UN could be much better served, if only the resources were made available. "We just don't have the budgets for new shows," says Leclere. "We are forever dependent on external proposals and we are on a constant lookout for them."

While the budget situation is just as tight in the radio section, the Information Products division does produce a steady stream of information programs in a host of languages, from English, French, Italian, Spanish, Russian, Arabic and Afrikaan to Indonesian, Turkish, Xhosa, Urdu and Zulu.

Scope and Perspective are the two outstanding and very popular 15-minute weekly informational shows in which expert commentary links excerpts from UN speeches on a given topic.

The radio section also services daily news feeds and UN news bulletins in English, Portuguese and Spanish. The news magazines, which are fed to Cairo, Beijing, New Delhi, etc., are serviced on shortwave from local transmitters.

The UN audio-visual section makes available UN films of various length from its library.

Conditions are imposed by a tight budget, but these problems are matched by the difficulties inherent in running a multi-nation communications service. Knowing prevailing sensitivities among member nations, the UN radio staff rarely tackles controversial themes, going more for a consensus approach.

Leclere, a former producer and anchorman on French TV, says his division spends 80% of its budget on the implementation of its functions, and only 20% on new TV products and special events. He seems resigned to the severe handicaps posed by UN budget limitations but confident that the organization can grow, by finding alternate sources of outside financing.

Rowe would also like to expand the UN media activities. He is encouraged by the UN video service which is used, among other places, by the new One World channel, which services Europe from London, and which informs the continent about developments in the Third World.

"We contribute to the establishment of a new world order," he says. "I think that's important, and eventually they'll let us expand and achieve the larger objectives of the United Nations."

PHOTO : Georges Leclere heads the United Nations' Information Products division.
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Publication:Video Age International
Date:Feb 1, 1991
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